June 9, 2014 |

Stop the topping overload

By Denise Greer

prepChallenge02Some customers are just like my father and say, “toppings — the more, the merrier.” But when that mentality is on your make line, it can scream disaster for your pizza quality, food cost and your bottom line.

The other day I grabbed a quick bite at one of the new fast-casual pizzerias that seem to be popping up across Louisville. I ordered from its suggested individual pizza menu, instead of creating my own. I like to see what kind of flavor combinations they come up with.

As I stood watching from across the glass case of its make line, a young guy proceeded to assemble my pizza. It was a train wreck from the get-go when he squeezed almost half of a bottle of pesto onto a 9-inch dough skin. I held my tongue from criticism as he piled a handful of Portobello mushrooms, followed by tomatoes and finished with an obscene amount of feta covering the top.

There was no way this heap of toppings was going to fully cook in the time allotted in its workhorse of a conveyor oven. But still I refrained from my instinct to comment. Instead, I paid for the pizza. It was the worst pizza I’ve had in a long time. The dough was gummy and soggy and the toppings were undercooked. In fact, the center was lukewarm.

Pizza’s not like build-to-order (BTO) subs. Customers may want to apply the same rationale of piling on more and more toppings for the perceived value. That doesn’t work with pizza. It destroys the quality. You end up with a pizza like the one I received — an undercooked, soggy mess.

I guarantee that the guy who made my pizza didn’t know that overloading toppings was going to make the pizza taste horrible. He was just trying to please me, the customer. But even if a customer wants to pack eight items on their pizza, it’s the pizzamaker’s job to portion toppings so that the pizza reflects the quality that you are going for. Hopefully my conversation with the manager after that meal will help them to correct their portioning problems.

Fast-casual BTO pizza restaurants must apply a strict standard of portion control and a more concentrated make line training.

Topping overload is not just a fast casual problem. It can happen in any pizzeria. Prevention is key and it starts with training. Conduct a topping overload training session, including:

  • Showing them what happens to a pizza when too many toppings are applied
  • Letting them taste the different
  • Crunching the numbers and explaining what topping overloading does to food costs
  • Providing portioning reference sheets for the make line
  • Outlining repercussion for not following portion controls
  • Creating an inspiring call to action to maintain quality
  • Incentivizing them to apply accurate portion controls every time